FROM THE COMMS CUPBOARD, Episode #11

Automation for the (comms) people

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The fiddly business of automation is the hot topic from the comms cupboard this week, scrutinised by John and Shaun.

What potential pitfalls exist around automation and automated messages, and what happens when scheduled content becomes irrelevant or inappropriate? It would be nice to think someone has taken ownership of it. From a communications perspective, shared ownership of the technical side of automation could be the best solution. But does this mean comms pros have to become techies too?!

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Episode transcript

John: Should we automate messages?

Shaun: Do you mean messages to the rest of the organisation?

John: Yeah, or to clients or customers.

Shaun: Are we talking spam?

John: Hopefully not spam, but I think we could all agree we don’t want spam.

Shaun: A lot of spam is automated.

John: Exactly. So does that mean good stuff can’t be automated? Valuable stuff?

Shaun: I think you’re right. I think good stuff can be automated. Do I want an inappropriate one? When I say inappropriate, I mean when I get that automated message from your bank or something and they’re trying to sell you something you already have. It means there was no connection; they didn’t really know me.

John: They don’t know you.

Shaun: They don’t know me.

John: It’s always frustrating when you get even a pop-up message on a website because you’ve looked at another website, and they’re advertising something that that other company may sell. And that’s frustrating, isn’t it?

Shaun: Well, it’s an algorithm. But you know, behind every automated email message or algorithm is a human that put it together in the first place. If we bring this to an internal communications discussion, when certain messages go out or automated Slack and things like that, should there be more moderation; maintenance of those automated messages?

John: I think there definitely has to be. If you have an internal audience and you’ve got messages set up, you really need to be aware of what’s coming out and be able to quickly adapt if something changes. So for example a senior manager leaves the business, but you’ve got six blogs set up from them, or six vlogs coming out from them over the next six weeks.

Shaun: That’s a really good point. That’s a really good example, because often content is scheduled 📅

John: Yes, or hopefully it is!

Shaun: If you’ve got enough content. Welcome to my life ☺️

John: So what skills do you think you need to be able to really manage automated content?

Shaun: Well you see I think this is where the buck is often passed. Say you’re in a marketing team and you know that … Look, I have to schedule content; I need this block to go on Monday from the CEO; I need this to go on Thursday afternoon … and then they don’t take ownership of it. They leave it to someone else to fiddle behind the scenes and create those automations. That’s where I think you separate yourself from ownership; you become disconnected from the process of the automation. And so the CEO leaves that week, and you remember – a good case scenario – you remember you’ve got some content going out written by that CEO. But he’s not our CEO anymore, so we have to stop that content. “Oh, the guy that I gave it to is on holiday this week. I don’t know how to do it.”

John: So you what you need is some good technology to help you as well, that’s shared across multiple people. It’s not one person’s responsibility to monitor everything.

Shaun: This is where I think skill sets should be wider. You know, that marketing person, or that internal comms person; the person creating the automation should learn how to take control of it, and they should do it themselves. And that whole team should – the internal comms team – everyone knows how to cancel a scheduled blog.

John: I think so many things are campaign-led these days that you’re gonna have content going out across 5/6/7 different channels over a period of weeks. You’re gonna be following up with different things socially in external communication spaces. How do you manage that differently?

Shaun: Well, is it? Is it a case of having stretched yourself too far into the future? So some logistics come into it. You see, in my opinion, automation is actually rather useful, but I think you have to stay on top of it. If you jump too far ahead … Let’s do a case scenario: Can you imagine if you had set up a load of great tweets around an event that you are attending, and then Coronavirus hits and every event in the world was cancelled. Flights were cancelled. You weren’t going to that event anymore. And four weeks into Coronavirus, a load of tweets go out saying: “Hey, we’re in Manchester today” or “We’re in Bangkok and we’re at so and so event.” That event was cancelled weeks ago. You look foolish. Your business looks foolish. People start questioning.

John: People laugh, don’t they. You lose the credibility.

Shaun: Because you didn’t stay on top of the scheduling; you didn’t stay on top of the automation.

John: Would you use one tool to do that, then? Is that an important thing? So that everything’s in one place and is controlled in one way?

Shaun: I think so. It’s better management then, isn’t it? If you have loads of tools, it’s only more complexity, I think. Use Buffer, use HootSuite for social media content. Use WordPress, if that’s what you’re using. But what about internal communications? Is there a case when you’re using an internal communications tool and you’re scheduling things, or is that not really a thing?

John: It is a thing, and it’s great to think you can get to that place. I think it takes a lot of planning. For a campaign, you would probably do that. So if it’s for … I don’t know … I’m thinking of something that happens every year like your performance reviews, and you want to have those communications coming out over a period of time. You might schedule different things to happen and go out and pre-write them all. That’s a great place to be. So from a campaign in a similar way you would do externally, you would do the same. Maybe that doesn’t happen as regularly with internal comms as it does external, but I think it’s still something that you would need to be on top of:
if anything changed or the date changes or something silly like that. Something quite unremarkable changes. You’ve got to make sure that everything changes then.

Shaun: Everything changes but you 🎶 Are we asking internal communications professionals to be a little bit more C-3PO; a little bit more techie?

John: Yeah, absolutely. I think going back to your earlier point, everyone needs to know how to do everything. I don’t think you could be a professional communicator without understanding how technology works, and your tools. It’s like any job, isn’t it? If you’re a carpenter, know your tools. If you communicate, know your tools. Make sure that you understand how it all works; how you can edit things, how you can stop things importantly, but also think of it in a positive way. Automation is going to save you time. I think communications jobs can be quite up and down. You can be hugely busy at one moment and quiet at other times. Use those quiet times to schedule things, and understand how that works. I think it is important.

Shaun: And let’s face it, the real upside of this is that it allows the IT department to have more time fixing Microsoft Windows.

😋

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